Instead of going after actual sexual predators, some police officers have discovered that it’s easier to just trick people. These cops go on adult dating sites, pose as grown women, find lonely guys, flirt, and then claim they are actually underage. The photos they send of “themselves” depict real women in their 20s. When the mark arranges a date, the cops arrest him as a predator.
These stings are the subject of a remarkable piece in The New York Times Magazine by Michael Winerip. He begins by profiling 20-year-old Jace Hambrick, a young man living at home, working in construction and doing a lot of gaming in Vancouver, Washington. When Hambrick found “Gamer Gurl” on Craigslist (which requires users to be 18) he couldn’t believe his luck: A woman who professed to love gaming and was looking for a boyfriend. They chatted for awhile and then “Gamer Gurl” said she was actually 13.
“Why did you post an ad in craigslist if your 13? You mean 23?” asked Hambrick.
They emailed, then texted, and she eventually shared a photo of herself. She looked like she was in her late teens or early 20s, she made cultural references most 13-year-olds wouldn’t get, and she gave Hambrick driving directions to her home. When he arrived, the person who greeted him was the same woman from the picture. But when he entered the home, two cops handcuffed him. The beautiful young woman was an adult police officer.
Hambrick was sentenced to 18-months-to life, and a minimum of 10 years on the sexual offense registry. (The “to-life” part is real: The state reserves the right to keep extending the sentence indefinitely.)
The Times article explains that cops have arrested 300 men over the past four years via what the Washington state police dubbed “Operation Net Nanny.” Many end up serving more time than men convicted of actually raping real kids. The disconnect between their “crime” and the fact no flesh-and-blood child was actually ever in danger—nor were the men looking for under-age partners—does not seem to matter to the cops.
Yet a state police captain giddily described the stings as an amazing return on investment: